I am fascinated by the ways in which people work, and how those ways differ from form to form and from person to person. As a result, I’ve decided to start asking people questions about their creative processes and dreams. This post is the first in a series of interviews I’m hoping to feature at least once a month profiling creative people of all stripes. (If you’re interested in being profiled, please get in touch!) Emily Townsend is a mixed media artist who lives in Colorado. She’s developed a wonderfully beautiful and inspirational method of creative journaling in addition to her other artistic and spiritual interests, and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her here. She can be found online at www.etstudio.net and her creative journaling blog can be found here.
Emily, tell us a little about yourself.
I am a mixed media artist who works primarily with paper, fiber, paint, and photography to create multi-layered collage canvases, visual journals, and mixed media experiments. I practice Core Shamanism as a personal and artistic path, and work in environmental healing using both art and shamanism. I have a B.A. in Fine Arts, and a B.S. and M.Arch in Architecture, all from the University of Maryland. I taught graphics and Fine Arts at Mercer Community College in New Jersey, and at my own studios in Bethesda, Maryland and Hightstown, New Jersey. I also worked as an art director, designing books, websites, magazines, print graphics, (and a few house remodels) early in my career.
How did you discover your creative journaling process?
I started keeping journals in middle school, and by high school graduation I had a huge stack of lined spiral bound journals filled with words. Before going off to college, I read some pages and felt so embarrassed what I wrote that I threw them all away! Then when starting up my art career years later, I remembered those journals and swore to myself to save everything I worked on. The journals were first just filled with words, and the sketchbooks were filled with drawings and doodles. It only took me about ten years to put those two actions together and end up with Visual Journals! Now I work in image and color first, and the words come later. I find the act of playing in a journal very cathartic and enlightening, somehow the right brain intuitive, more authentic side of me is released more in the playing in a journal than any other way. I let the rational, verbal, linear side of my brain play second fiddle, and this is a very good way to get into a creative flow.
Have you ever collaborated on a creative project? Tell us about that experience and what you learned from it.
I painted in a group of 3 other women, from Germany and Japan. We would spread out huge canvas from a roll, often 4′ x 8′ and just go for it with large bottles of paint, all painting together at the same time. It was super fun. We didn’t plan or have themes, and the canvases were quite amazing. (You can see some here.)
We each had our own style, which we learned to put all together in a sort of symphony of paint. It was working great until we had a show in NYC. The money part just didn’t work out for us, too much pressure I think. But it was great fun while it lasted.
There is the creative world and there is the money world; I learned it is quite hard to make both those very different parts of being an artist work with different strong opinions and money pressure.
What are your favorite ways to defeat procrastination/overwhelm?
Making art is a practice, like any other. You don’t sit and wait for the muse to show up, you work and work and work, and even if the results aren’t pleasing, you know that it is a victory to just keep on going. When someone ponders how I come up with such new ideas, I tell them if they surrounded themselves with wonderful materials, and sat in their studio for 8 hours a day for week after week and month after month, they, too, would come up with wonderful work. It’s just a question of always being there and keeping at it. And getting up for a walk now and then, or playing awesome music sure helps, too. And coffee.
How do you balance your interests and projects to make sure you actually get things done rather than being scattered in an unproductive way?
I often am scattered but not really in an unproductive way.
I have little piles for each project, and sometimes I realize it has been months or years since touching one of those piles. This is the pitfall of working on many things at once, but I would get too bored just doing one thing all the time. I allow myself the scattered-ness because I really have no choice. I tried hanging a large gridded calender on my wall with a strict schedule, but I never followed it, so gave up on that. I just work and work and work, and I know this is productive, so I don’t worry about being systematic or ordered with it all.
If I feel unproductive, I get to work on something. That’s the answer — eventually something gets done, there is a show to hang or a lecture to give or a workshop to teach. Or someone orders something and I have to work to get it done. All in the fullness of time, as they say.
And if I need an artist date, or coffee out, or even to have a Downton Abbey Season One marathon in a day, I let myself do that. You can’t be cranking out work 10 hours a day non-stop. Downtime is part of the creative process.
I have to agree—and I think Downton is a great way to take a break! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences and your process!